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When you first imagine playing pickleball, you imagine working beside a friend and playing against two opponents. But did you know that singles pickleball also exists? Without a friend on your side, singles pickleball is an invigorating game that will require you to advance your skills and pickleball strategies. Ready to learn more about singles pickleball, including ways to improve your game and win more rounds?
Then let’s get started!
How Singles Pickleball Differs From Double Pickleball
Did you start your pickleball journey with doubles? Then you are probably concerned about the differences between singles and doubles pickleball. There are three key differences that change the way the game of pickleball unfolds:
- Singles pickleball is going to feel like a completely different game physically. You have to move more quickly and use a lot of lateral movement to get to the ball faster. With doubles, there is less ground for you to worry about, meaning you can conserve energy.
- Playing singles pickleball means that you are the only player on one side. You are responsible for defending the complete half of your court instead of sharing the court with your partner. While pickleball courts are smaller than tennis courts, this may seem like a lot of ground to cover, nonetheless.
- Calling out the score with singles is different, because there are only 2 numbers in use—your score and your opponent’s. During doubles, there are 3 numbers: server 1 or 2, your score, and the opponent’s score.
The Rules of Singles Pickleball
Although singles pickleball has many of the same rules as doubles pickleball, there are a couple of exceptions to commit to memory. Take a look at the pickleball rules for singles matches:
Get Behind The Line When Serving
First and foremost, you stand behind the line. Your foot cannot touch the baseline or anywhere on the court until the ball is in play. As soon as the ball has crossed the net successfully, you can come onto the court and prepare to return your opponent’s hit.
Serve The Ball Underhand
In singles pickleball, you must serve the ball underhand, and the paddle has to connect with your ball while it is lower than your navel. Your hand and arm follow through on the upward stroke as the ball flies towards your opponent.
Setting Up The Correct Pickleball Serve
When playing singles pickleball, the first serving position is on the right hand side of the court, diagonal to the opponent. You must hit the ball diagonally across the court and over the net to the opponent for the serve to be considered successful. Should the serve be a success, the next serve starts from the left-hand side of the court.
An easy way to remember the position is that all even scores are on the right side while all odd numbers are to the left.
You get a single chance to serve. The only time this changes is if the ball hits the top of the net and falls onto the opponent’s side—this is known as a let. You can replay the serve the.
Did the serve hit the non-volley line or kitchen? That is a fault. Beyond the opponent’s baseline, the serve is out. Since the point is lost, the opponent has their turn to serve.
The ball has to bounce once before the opponent gets a chance to return the serve. Once the initial serve is returned, you can strike the ball on the full. The ball can only bounce once on your side or your opponents. Should the ball bounce twice, it is a foul, and the point goes to the opponent.
Net Rules For Singles Pickleball
The ball has to get over the net cleanly with every shot. If you happen to hit the net and the ball hits your opponent’s side, the game continues. Should you hit the net during the serve and it passes to your opponent’s side, it’s considered a “let,” and you get a second chance at serving.
What happens when you hit the net and the ball stays on your side or goes out of bounds? That’s called a fault. Because of that, the opponent gets a service.
Going Out of Bounds
Similar to tennis and other racquet games, whenever the ball lands outside the lines of the court, it does not qualify as a serve. Going out of bounds disqualifies the serve, and the receiver gets a chance to serve next. The only time a ball is not considered out of bounds is when the majority of the ball lands within the boundary line before bouncing beyond the lines.
Scoring Rules of Singles Pickleball
Doubles and singles pickleball have very similar scoring. As mentioned earlier, the main difference is how many numbers you need to call out. Each server only calls out two numbers: your score first, then your opponent’s.
For example, if you are up to serve and have 1 point while your opponent has 2, you would say, “1 to 2.”
Singles pickleball scoring goes up to 11 points. The winner must have 2 points more than their opponent, too. In other words, if you have 11 points, your opponent must have 9 points or less. If you end up with 11-10 as the score, then the game has to continue until you are 2 points clear.
You will continue serving until a point is lost. This then makes it the opponent’s turn. They also continue to serve until they lose a point. Also, points are only awarded for wins and never deducted when a point is lost.
Getting Ready to Play: Singles Pickleball Strategies
The challenge is on! Are you up for it? You have twice the court to defend and need to be quick, anticipatory, and deft in your movements if you want to win. Because of that, there are five winning strategies for singles pickleball to try during your next game:
1. Serve Down The Middle
When you are up to serve, aim the ball either to your opponent’s weak side or down the middle line of the court. This is an important singles pickleball strategy, because it makes it difficult for your opponent to return the ball.
Secondly, many players have a weak backhand. If you force your opponent to use their backhand, there is a greater chance you can score right off the serve.
2. Keep Your Opponent on Their Toes
Moving your opponent around is smart. After all, a tired opponent is more likely to miss a return. Are they standing to the right? Hit the ball to the left. Pair this with targeting their weak hand and putting pressure on them.
3. Position Yourself Wisely
When serving, you want to aim deep or down the middle. You also want to position yourself as close to the middle as possible without touching the baseline. If you stay in the corner, there is a higher probability that your opponent is going to change the direction of the ball and lob it out of reach. In the middle, you can see the whole court and react quickly to directional changes.
4. Avoid Getting Close To The Net
Here is one strategy that works in doubles but fails in singles. In doubles, you or your teammate may move into the kitchen—the non-volley zone—to be more offensive. However, entering the kitchen during singles gives the opponent the chance to hit the ball deep—along the sides or in the back corner. If you’re hugging the nut, you won’t have enough time to turn around and give chase before losing a point.
5. Deep Returns
What does it mean to return the ball deep? Aim for the far back corner. This is a strategy that many singles pickleball players use, because it catches the opponent off guard. Since many people cling to the middle of the court, knocking the ball closer to the baseline is a way to get a point easily.
6. Play Percentages
What does it mean to anticipate a shot? Look at the net, for instance. The net is going to be higher near the posts and lower to the middle. Your opponent also knows this. There is a high percentage that both of you are going to aim for the middle of the net, since it’s easier to get the ball over.
Position yourself toward the centerline whenever possible, as that is the safest place to stand. Want to surprise your opponent? Aim for the higher edges of the net, where they may not expect the ball to go. Sure, there is a lower percentage of the ball getting beyond the net, but there is a high percentage of your opponent not being prepared for it.
Ready For a Game of Singles?
Now that you have read through this beginner’s guide to singles pickleball, you are probably eager to try a game or two. While the rules of singles pickleball can be a bit confusing at times, there is no need to worry. Once you hit the pickleball court, you will be having so much fun that a mistake here and there doesn’t matter. All you need is the right pickleball gear and a little bit of practice!
Yes, you can play singles for pickleball. The rules of the game are not much different from doubles pickleball, though there are some changes to calling out scores during serves, your serving position, and strategies.
There are three main differences: the game is much more physically taxing, because you move around more in singles; you are responsible for defending your entire space; and you have to call out only two numbers in singles—your score and the opponent’s—instead of the scores and your server number, as with doubles.
Scoring happens when your opponent fails to return the ball to your side, either by missing the ball, fault, foul, or an out of bounds hit.
In traditional singles pickleball, you are responsible for defending the entire side of your court. In skinny singles, you and your opponent only cover half of the court. There are a couple variations to skinny singles, including serving from only the even side of the court, playing cross-court, and a combination of the first and second variation.